Light posting Friday links
Sep 022009
The Uribistas celebrate on the floor of Colombia’s House. (Picture from Semana.)

Only a month ago, Colombian politics watchers believed that the referendum to allow President Álvaro Uribe’s reelection was dead. A month of political strong-arm tactics revived it, and yesterday it cleared what might end up having been its biggest hurdle. Colombia’s House of Representatives, by a vote of 85-5, approved the referendum bill, sending it to Uribe for his signature.

Despite appearances, this was a very, very close nail-biter of a vote. Colombia’s House has 166 members. The entire opposition stayed out of the chamber – whether to abstain, to prevent the arrival at a quorum necessary for a vote, or both. The bill needed 84 votes to pass and only got 85. Not a ringing endorsement, but enough to gain full congressional approval.

Members of opposition parties insist that the needed votes were only gained through offers of political favors, like the ability to choose the next occupants of key government posts. “What has happened in the Congress is an embarrassment because every kind of corruption has been seen,” said former Medellín Mayor and independent presidential candidate Sergio Fajardo. Liberal Party presidential candidate Rafael Pardo, a former defense minister, charged today that recent shifts of mid-level positions in the national prison system may have been the result of such backroom dealing on behalf of the referendum.

The next obstacle the referendum faces is Colombia’s Constitutional Court, which must rule on the constitutionality of the law and the process by which it was approved. There is no fixed period for how long this process must take; El Tiempo estimates about 80 days, but also includes a chart of possible timetables that could have the court’s ruling as early as mid-November or as late as next April, a month before the May 30 presidential elections.

The Uribe government would ideally want to schedule the referendum before December – less than three months from now. A vote during Colombia’s long holiday period (mid-December to mid-January) is impossible, and after that, much focus will be on the March congressional elections.

El Tiempo discusses another, more chaotic possibility: holding the referendum at the same time as the March legislative elections, in the same balloting. This could happen if the pro-Uribe-majority Congress passes legislation changing a few deadlines – including the date by which Uribe would officially have to declare himself a candidate (currently November 30). If this strategem succeeds, Colombia could effectively be treated to a two-month-long presidential campaign: one that begins with a March 2009 referendum on whether Uribe can run, and ends with the May 2009 election.

All this assumes, though, that the Constitutional Court – once it rules – will rule in favor of allowing the referendum to go ahead. This is not a certainty. The list of procedural problems with the law is long, as this enumeration by Colombia’s El Nuevo Siglo newspaper makes clear. A former constitutional court justice, Clara Inés Vargas, told several Colombian radio outlets earlier today that the court’s approval would be difficult to obtain. However, the majority of the current court’s justices are now Uribe appointees, so things could be different now.

19 Responses to “The referendum moves ahead”

  1. Tambopaxi Says:

    How discouraging. We don’t need three terms of anybody, Chavez or Uribe, or Correa, or anyone else who aspires to permanent power; it’s simply not healthy, not good for democracy in LA…

  2. Camilo Wilson Says:

    Let me wish you, Mr. Isacson, and President Uribe speedy recoveries from your illnesses.

    Sincerely–Camilo Wilson

  3. lfm Says:

    You all know that I hated Uribe’s first term, hated his second one and am ready to hate the third one. (Ok, there have been some successes during these years, but you get the point.) But, emotions aside, I’m wondering why did the uribista coalition NEEDED so badly this third term. They are feeding us horse manure about the continuation of the “democratic security”. That’s nonsense. Like it or not, the “democratic security” (which, as time goes by, becomes neither) can be continued by anybody else. If history is any lesson, this kind of thing happens when the ruling coalition is afraid of falling apart if the one unifying factor (the strongman in charge) is no longer there. So, the question becomes why, after seven years in power, these guys have not been able to create a coalition that can outlive Uribe?

    Part of the answer has to do with Uribe himself, of course. He has never tried to turn them into a single coherent party with rules and all. But I think there might be something else. Here’s my conjecture, let’s see if somebody can help me out with this.

    In the uribista coalition there are elements with different shades. Some are the “urban neoliberals” often technocrats fluent in English that look well in business suits and that believe all that stuff about “investors confidence” and tell it to whoever would listen. Agree with them or not, some of these guys probably have never seen a weapon in their lives and have never strayed away from the law. But then there are the uribistas from the dark side, the warlords that have fought the vicious COIN of Colombia’s last two decades, accumulated land, become incredibly powerful in the countryside and more often than not, gotten involved in the drug trade. Sometimes these groups agree on some stuff. Whenever “investors confidence” is taken to mean more money for palm oil, you see all of them singing the same tune. But if I were a “clean uribista” I would be scared that, over time, the dark side will take over completely. Once they finish controlling the countryside (if they haven’t already), once they consolidate their grip on the illegal and semi-legal economy, it will be vary hard to dislodge them from politics and so the “clean” ones will face a stark choice: join the mudfest, or get the hell out of there. Well, they’ve been making this choice already but seems that with Uribe they have some niches where they can still thrive on their own. I must confess that here my thinking is confused because I don’t know if the uribista warlordist project is a work in progress or if it is already finished. I have the feeling that, as far as the war is still going on, it’s hard to call the whole thing a done deal.

    So the “clean” uribistas think they are buying time with this third term. (Not all of them, some actually jumped ship.) Maybe they also expect that the American presence will help them win the war without empowering the dark side much more than what it already is. (To which I’d say “phat chance.”) By the way, it is interesting that, just as after seven years in power these guys have not been able to give continuity to their centerpiece policy of security, beyond reelecting their man, they still need the US military to help them in a war that they say they’ve won. I mean, didn’t the FARC disappear, like, three years ago and became four independent gangs ran by James Petras from his office in NY? That’s what Jose Obdulio’s been saying. But I digress, the point is that I think that the clean uribistas will live to regret this unholy alliance. They are unleashing forces they cannot control and now they have to wait another four years to see if things fall in place. Hopefully, the courageous among them will walk away from that cesspool and join the calls for another way of addressing the conflict. Before they do, they might want to talk to their insurance agent, though.

  4. maremoto Says:

    “Few observers see much possibility of actual war between Colombia and Venezuela anytime soon. It is clear, though, that the base deal has given Chávez a huge political opportunity. The Bush administration’s deep unpopularity had made it easy for the Venezuelan leader to portray the United States as an enemy bent on removing him from power. That argument became much less credible during the first months of the Obama administration, when the new U.S. president offered an “outstretched hand” to adversaries. It was difficult for Chávez to portray Barack Obama as an imperialist enemy.”

    Finally got around to reading this post on Huff Post….. This is a deeply disingenuous statement which flies in the face of how this “government” really operates. Obama couldn’t even enforce the FOIA transparency goals for government he announced the second day after being in office much less prevent the barbarians from establishing bases in my country. It is not the Bush unpopularity which tells us this is an entity that is not to be trusted but your own sordid and shabby history in our region. Don’t worry, the saying goes that he who hits forgets but he gets hit never forgets.

    Here’s a little bit of history to keep things in perspective for you:

    The real drug traffickers:

    Amazing how these so-called establishment mainstream media outlets continue spouting disinformation to its own “citizens” (sheep is more like it).

  5. Camilo Wilson Says:

    I think you’re onto something, IFM, but I don’t have time to pursue it. Keep thinking, and blog when you can.

  6. maremoto Says:


    this is from the comments section of Huff Post:

    From the article:

    “How we got here”

    “This story really began a decade ago, in 1999, when the last U.S. soldier left bases in Panama that dated back to Teddy Roosevelt’s time.”

    NO; this article is absurdly shortsighted and/or purposefully deceptive in making such an assertion
    as to “how we got here,” quite conveniently electing to completely disregard any other events that inspired deep distrust of US medling in Latin American governments. This is particularly true in case of the US supporting Pinochet and providing him aid in overthrowing Allende’s democratically elected Chilean government.

    This article is written with a subtle yet clearly Rightwing/­NeoLiberal bias towards Latin American nations.

    And, I was reading the NY Times the other day, Simon Romero’s Venezuela-FARC smear and I can tell you that a sizable portion of the American people are sick of the “establishment” scumbaggery carpetbaggery lol

    You know I was recently in Venezuela and I can tell you I’ve never been in a country so politically charged. People, average lower middle income folks (taxi drivers etc the MAJORITY of Venezuelans) consider Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution an existential awakening in their history. I don’t see how they can colonize Venezuela again except through brute force.

  7. maremoto Says:

    The Aristotle of our times. Enough said.

  8. Jaime Busto Says:

    “It was a nail-biter” — said Adam Isaacson
    I hope Adam did not tear his fingertips apart :mrgreen:

  9. Marcos Says:

    Please don’t insult Aristotle by comparing him with that…overrated and opinionated linguist.

    Anyway, it seems almost every time this blog seems halfway promising the comments section slips right back into what it really is. I’ve already described that before so I’ll spare you the redundancy. Yeah, I’m not exactly helping either, but it’s not even worth trying by now.



  10. maremoto Says:,,OI3956428-EI13928,00-Militarizando+a+America+Latina.html

    “Anyway, it seems almost every time this blog seems halfway promising the comments section slips right back into what it really is”

    what it is really is? what it really is is our lives and our loved ones’ lives destroyed by the type of sophistry practiced here … dumbass

  11. maremoto Says:

  12. lfm Says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong: I get the impression that today’s anti-Chavez rally was pretty anemic, as I would have predicted. The point is not whether the rally was right or wrong; we can discuss that for ages without getting anywhere. What baffles me is that, at least in the internet editions, El Tiempo and El Espectador are covering it as if it was some colossal tidal wave of popular something. You have to read deep past the headlines to see that turnout was typically in the four digits. Which means that in the newspapers the headlines do not match with the news. I’m shocked, shocked! Could it be that El Tiempo (and, sad to say, El Espectador) are now beginning to spread misinformation? Oh my god! What will happen to Colombia’s democracy if suddenly our newspapers start misleading the public after all the years of objective truth-telling and independent thinking that have been their trademark? I’m deeply concerned

  13. Marcos Says:

    If anything EL TIEMPO was underreporting assistance, at least when I read the newspaper earlier in the day.

    I saw a pretty big stream of people walking through the 7° in front of where I was working. Without pretending to have any numbers ready, there was fairly significant amount of people at that moment, even if less than in previous marches.

    I didn’t attend, I actually had other things to do and didn’t really like the idea. Sorry, I fail as a Nazi and paramilitary “dumbass” (the feeling is mutual, maremoto) eh?

    So let’s all assume Your Excellencies are completely correct about everything by default and by the grace of God.



  14. PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » #Colombia: The Timing of the Referendum and its Implications Says:

    [...] deadline for registering one’s candidacy? I was going to look up the dates, but thankfully Adam Isacson already noted that date from an El Tiempo article: November 30th. It is unlikely in the extreme [...]

  15. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Rally against Uribe in Bogota ;)

  16. Camilla Says:

    Don’t do it, Alvaro!!! Go out a hero!

  17. Camilla Says:

    Good analysis, LFM, in #3. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever agreed with you. I think you explain well what is going on, it’s what I think is going on too.

    I’ve always wondered what decent albeit Sorosian, human-rights-racket types like Jaime Bermudez must think about the company they’re in. They, more than anyone, have got to know that this will go bad and it will take them down with it.

    I think Juan Manuel Santos would be a terrific president – he’s more media savvy than Uribe, he knows the states better and will be able to get along with more people in Congress, and I doubt anyone has any significant secrets about him – the guy was a journalist for crissakes, what kinds of secrets do those people have? Best of all, Hugo Chavez is even more terrified of him than he is of Uribe and, probably because he has nothing on him, something that might not be true of Uribe. Chavez might be less likely to mess with Colombia for that reason.

  18. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Go out a hero and on to The Hague! C’mon ;)

  19. Plan Colombia and Beyond » “This is not the moment to be complacent about Colombian democracy” Says:

    [...] describe the state of their country’s democracy. The cause, of course, is last week’s bare-majority vote in Colombia’s Congress allowing a referendum to let President Álvaro Uribe run for a third [...]

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